Why we need the navy
Protecting ships that carry the food you eat, the stuff you buy and the fuel you need.
Global maritime trade relies on the free and lawful use of the sea. The UK is an island nation and most of the food and goods you buy in the shops has arrived from overseas on a ship. The same goes for the oil that powers your car and the gas that heats your home. Some oil and gas comes shore by pipeline but most is carried in very large and vulnerable tankers. Even a slight disruption to this flow of energy will quickly cause serious problems for the UK. Without fuel, food distribution would grind to a halt, rationing would be introduced and we would have to rely on meagre locally grown supplies. At least 95% of UK trade by volume (around 500 million tons) is moved by sea. The health of the UK economy depends on this and your job may also depend directly or indirectly on the free flow of imports or exports by sea. Sea transport is a significant part of the economy and is the UK’s 3rd largest service sector. These ships are obviously vulnerable to attack by a foreign country, terrorists or pirates. The only effective way to protect merchant shipping is with naval forces. During two world wars Britain came perilously close to starvation because her merchant shipping was being sunk by submarines. Today there are fewer merchant ships but are generally much larger and in open conflict would make fat and easy targets for today’s sophisticated submarines. Just a few well-handled submarines or well placed mines could wreak havoc on world trade. 95% of sea-borne global trade passes through just 9 narrow ‘choke points’ (such as the Straits of Hormuz ) where it is especially easy for a belligerent nation or even a terrorist group to attack shipping.
There are just 19 surface escorts left in the Royal Navy, way short of what is needed to protect the merchant shipping on which we depend. The RN still has world-renowned mine hunting expertise but has just 15 mine warfare vessels.
Operating the nuclear deterrent that helps keeps the peace.
Whatever you think about nuclear weapons, it is hard to disagree with the fact that the threat of their use has prevented world war for over 60 years. The Royal Navy has quietly helped maintain this deterrent which ultimately helped win the Cold War. While unstable nations around the world continue to acquire nuclear weapons it would seem wise that Britain retains this ability. It would be great if the world was entirely rid of these expensive horror weapons but unfortunately that’s a utopian fantasy.
The government has begun the process of replacing the current generation of nuclear-deterrent submarines but ongoing public and political support will be needed to keep the project going.
Helping in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking.
The causes of terrorism and what the responses to it should be are complex and controversial. However what is not in doubt is that it is an increasing threat to the world and in most cases terrorists need to be confronted by force. Britain is second only to the US on the list of countries that insane Islamic militants want to target with indiscriminate murder and mayhem. Everyday, largely out of sight and out of the public mind, the RN is part of the complex array of forces trying to combat terrorism. Whether contributing personnel, and aircraft to Afghanistan, or conducting maritime search of suspect vessels, the RN is helping police the seas and disrupt terrorism. The RN regularly patrols in the Caribbean region and has made seizures of large amounts drugs grown in South America intended for Europe. The RN has also sized drugs from suspect vessels across the worlds oceans. Disrupting the trade in narcotics that are a major cause of misery on our streets and is a source of funds for terrorism and criminal empires is vital.
The RN simply does not have the number of ships it needs for patrol tasks. It can only just manage to maintain its standing patrols in the Caribbean by utilising auxiliary ships
Maintaining international partnerships and protecting overseas territories.
Regular visits by RN vessels promote relationships with friendly and neutral nations around the world and help build trust and provide reassurance. The size and ability of the RN (and other UK forces) is a significant factor in how much influence we have over global politics. The presence of a warship can send a powerful message of deterrence without a shot being fired. The concept of a ‘fleet in being’ is a cornerstone in the defence of the UK and its interests. The knowledge that we possess a fleet and are able to use it can make potential aggressors think twice.
There are 13 British Overseas Territories who’s populations firmly want to remain British. In the last 20 years the RN has been called upon to provide direct support to 6 of them as well as carry out several evacuations of endangered UK nationals.
Supplying humanitarian aid and helping with disaster relief around the world.
The RN not only trains for war but for humanitarian missions. Every year RN warships are involved in providing aid, comfort and relief of nations that have suffered natural disasters. In the Caribbean where islands are regularly devastated by hurricanes RN vessels have often been the first on the scene providing help to the local authorities. In the aftermath of the devastating hurricane in 2013, RN vessels went to the relief of the Philippines. There have been many other examples going back decades where trained men, well equipped ships and the ‘can-do’ attitude of the RN has been a huge help to struggling communities across the globe. On a smaller scale it is common practice for RN warships visiting foreign ports to send small teams to help local charities in various practical ways such a repairing an orphanage or decorating a school. In addition ship’s companies regularly raise considerable sums of money to donate to charitable organisations. In these kind of efforts the RN is a great ambassador for the UK and a force for good in the world.
Protecting UK waters and the fish stocks.
Fish are an important part of our diet and the fishing industry is a mainstay of many small ports around UK. Protecting fish stocks from over-fishing, preventing plunder by foreign vessels and enforcing fish quotas and regulations is actually the oldest task performed by the RN. In addition to fishery protection, supporting the Coastguard, Customs and Police in the fight against terrorism crime, drug smuggling, illegal immigration are occasional additional roles for RN vessels on your doorstep. With 10,500 miles of coastline and 600 ports one of the UK’s greatest natural resources is the sea.
There are just 3 RN fishery protection vessels dedicated to patrolling UK waters. In recent times the RN has struggled to provide even a single dedicated frigate or destroyer as ‘Fleet Ready Escort’ for home waters.
Carrying out search and rescue missions.
As a ‘cost saving measure’ helicopter search and rescue services will be privatised from 2016, replacing experienced RN and RAF aircrews with private contractors.
Supporting manufacturing, industry, research and science.
Designing, building and maintaining the vessels and equipment needed by the RN employs thousands of people in the UK and helps maintain cutting edge industrial skills which benefit the economy as a whole. Manufacturing is a key part of a good economy and we can’t just rely on the service sector. Although it is hard to argue the taxpayer has received good value for money recently as so many projects have been mis-managed and gone over-budget, never the less, these skills and capabilities are important to keep as no one knows when the UK may need to expand it’s forces to meet future threats.
By failing to place regular orders, successive governments have allowed much of the industrial infrastructure that supports the RN to wither. This valuable skills base built up over centuries is either impossible or very expensive to replace if needed.